Trova il tuo prossimo libro preferito

Abbonati oggi e leggi gratis per 30 giorni
The Merkel Republic: An Appraisal

The Merkel Republic: An Appraisal

Leggi anteprima

The Merkel Republic: An Appraisal

Lunghezza:
371 pagine
4 ore
Pubblicato:
Sep 1, 2015
ISBN:
9781782388968
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Chancellor Angela Merkel has dominated German and European politics for almost a decade. Her stellar reputation, sound political and economic management, and popularity inside of Germany resulted in one of the most decisive electoral victories for her conservative parties in postwar Germany—the country can rightfully be deemed the Merkel Republic. Bringing together German politics experts from both sides of the Atlantic, this volume addresses the campaign, results, and consequences of the 2013 Bundestag election. Chapters delve into a diverse array of themes, including immigrant-origin and women candidates, the fate of the small parties, and the prospects for the SPD, the new coalition partner, as well as more general structural trends like the Europeanization and cosmopolitanization of German politics.

Pubblicato:
Sep 1, 2015
ISBN:
9781782388968
Formato:
Libro

Correlato a The Merkel Republic

Libri correlati
Articoli correlati

Anteprima del libro

The Merkel Republic - Berghahn Books

Bundestag

INTRODUCTION

Merkel’s Nachsommermärchen?

Eric Langenbacher

A Märchen for Merkel

Not once during the campaign—or actually over the whole course of the seventeenth Bundestag (2009-2013)—was it ever really in doubt that Angela Merkel would continue as chancellor after the 22 September 2013 parliamentary election. Despite the vicissitudes of governing for eight years, most in the midst of the financial and Euro crisis, she has achieved and sustained some of the highest approval ratings of any postwar German politician. Voters trust Merkel as a good manager of the economy and an honest steward and defender of German interests in Europe. Her carefully cultivated image as a steady, reassuring, and incorruptible leader, coupled with her political acumen, ideological flexibility and, at times, ruthlessness—captured in the dueling monikers of Mutti Merkel and Merkelavelli¹—are the keys to her profound success.

She is the first female chancellor, the most powerful woman in the world, and the fifth most powerful person overall.² With ten years in power (as of 22 November 2015), she is the third-longest serving chancellor behind fellow Christian Democrats Helmut Kohl with sixteen years in power and Konrad Adenauer with fourteen, and, currently, she is the longest serving head of government in the European Union. Even more importantly, in the summer of 2014, soccer fan Merkel presided over a real Sommermärchen (summer fairy tale) with the men’s national soccer team’s victory in the World Cup (the country’s fourth such title, but the first since reunification).³ She has presided over a prolonged export boom, resulting in a record-setting current account surplus of 7.4 percent of GDP in 2014.⁴ Economic performance has remained solid, especially compared to EU partners, many of which are in recession—German GDP grew by 3.9 percent in 2010, 3.7 percent in 2011, 0.6 percent in 2012, 0.2 percent in 2013, 1.5 percent in 2014, and 1.1 percent (predicted) in 2015.⁵ Public finances are sound with the debt burden returning to around 80 percent of GDP and the deficit at only -0.1 percent in 2013, following a budget surplus of 0.1 percent in 2012. Already in 2014, the federal government achieved its long sought-after schwarz-null—a fully funded budget with no new debt—for the first time since 1969.⁶

Table I.1. German Economic Performance, 2009-2016

In light of French stagnation, Italian dysfunction, and British withdrawal from Europe, Merkel has overseen an unprecedented rise of German influence and power in the European Union and beyond. Moreover, the so-called German model, in disgrace by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, has seen a comeback. Countries around the world—including the United States—have grown to admire the German system and are even trying to emulate parts of it.⁷ It is truly Merkel’s Germany today, dare one say, Merkel’s Europe.

Not surprising, therefore, was the resounding victory of her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU or the Union parties) in the 2013 election. In fact, her victory was so decisive that her party came within a handful of seats of achieving an absolute majority—a feat only achieved once in postwar Germany by Konrad Adenauer in 1957 at the height of the Wirtschaftswunder. As much as Merkel’s re-election was seemingly overdetermined, election night did generate several surprises, most notably the failure of the Liberals (Free Democratic Party, FDP)—the junior coalition partner since 2009—to surpass the 5 percent electoral threshold. They are thus not represented in parliament for the first time since 1949. This outcome also necessitated a new coalitional partner for the Union, which, as expected, turned out to be the Social Democrats (SPD). These parties negotiated yet another grand coalition (after experiences from 1966-1969 and 2005-2009)—replete with a detailed 185-page coalition agreement⁸—sworn in almost three months after the election on 17 December 2013.

In light of the importance of Germany in European and global politics today, and the current resonance of the German system abroad, this edited volume is devoted to the 2013 Bundestag election and its consequences. The contributions assembled below delve into a variety of salient issues, including the campaign, partisan politics, issues of representation, government formation, and domestic and foreign policies. The reader should gain a fuller understanding of the German political situation, as well as some insight into what one might expect looking into the future. Merkel is at the pinnacle of her power, but her era could come to a close over the next four years. Who and what come next? Moreover, despite the outward signs of success, many challenges have festered underneath the surface—problems that will eventually emerge and demand action. In a few short years, Merkel might very well paraphrase the apocryphal words of France’s Louis XV: aprés moi le deluge. At the least, her stunning electoral triumph, her Herbstmärchen (autumn fairy tale), may turn out to be much more ephemeral, a Nachsommermärchen (Indian Summer fairy tale).

The Campaign

Onlookers inside and outside of Germany agreed that the 2013 election campaign was one of the most boring and inconsequential ever—even more so than 2009, which was memorably likened to a city council race in Würzburg.⁹ Observers widely lamented that the parties did not address the big, existential issues that Germany faces—rising income inequality, stagnant wages, widespread precarity, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of domestic investment. This is not even to mention deeper structural issues such as the aging of the population, immigration and integration issues, and, of course, the specter of the simmering Euro crisis. But then, certain highbrow types always think there should be much more thoughtful debate about a political system’s challenges in some kind of fantasy Habermasian public sphere. Yet, even by more realistic standards, candidates discussed very little of substance during either the six hot weeks of the campaign or in the months preceding this phase.

Each party had a substantial enough electoral platform. The center-right parties resisted tax increases and more European oversight of the economy and banking sector. The center-left and left parties advocated higher taxes and more supranational oversight, and everyone seemed concerned about educational outcomes, affordable housing, and, of course, noise (Lärmschutz).¹⁰ Only a few issues appeared to gain any kind of traction: proposals for a minimum wage, plans to address rising rents in many cities, lowering the retirement age, a potential toll for foreign cars on Autobahns, or financing more daycare places. There was only one televised debate on 1 September between Merkel and her Social Democratic challenger (Peer Steinbrück)—the so-called Kanzlerduell—and another one for the top candidates of the other, smaller parties. Even this failed to generate much drama, although Merkel (Greece never should have been let into the Eurozone) and her opponent (the banks are responsible for the Euro crisis and should be held accountable) landed a few punches. Comedian and co-moderator Stefan Raab’s smart-alecky behavior stole the show—as well as the presumably patriotic necklace that Merkel wore—the so-called Schlandkette, which even generated its own Twitter account.¹¹

Pundits largely blamed Merkel and her party for this state of affairs. The CDU centered its campaign almost completely on the figure of the Kanzlerin. Campaign posters veritably fetishized Merkel, with outsized photos, and more often (especially in the much derided three-story advertisement near the main train station in Berlin) simply depicting her hands in her famous, rhombus-shaped (Raute) gesture—Maxima Merkel as Der Spiegel put it.¹² Slogans were simple—gemeinsam erfolgreich (successful together); damit Angela Merkel Kanzlerin bleibt (so that Angela Merkel remains chancellor); Cool bleiben und Kanzlerin wählen (stay calm and vote for the chancellor)—perhaps summarized simply by weiter so (more, onwards, forward), or Angie. As Merkel put it at the end of the Kanzlerduell—you know me, you trust me, let’s continue. This encapsulates Merkel’s appeal: no drama, trustworthiness, the reputation for sound management, studiousness, and hard work.

Many commented that it was a classic Christian Democratic campaign strategy dating back to the Adenauer era of "keine Experimente" (no experiments). This resonated deeply with an older, conservative German electorate that is deeply satisfied with its prosperity and economic achievements, as well as a little proud, even smug that Germans have been doing so well despite the misery from the financial and Euro crisis surrounding them. Indeed, unemployment has fallen to an almost historic low, youth unemployment is negligible—under 10 percent, versus an EU average of 23 percent and over 50 percent in Greece and Spain—and taxes have not risen.¹³ Berlin is finally booming for the first time really since before 1945, nation-wide growth is projected to accelerate in 2014 and 2015, and even Eastern Germany is doing reasonably well.¹⁴ The Union would not have benefited from a deeper debate about issues. Merkel basically had to show up and smile—or show her hands—and that is exactly what she did.

Not everyone has been completely taken in by Merkel’s appeal. Some liken her to a "schwäbische Hausfrau—a hard-working, thrifty, perhaps stingy, southern German housewife. Guido Westerwelle was the first of many to refer to her as Mutti—mommy—although I always thought she more resembles a Tante (aunt)—reassuring, supportive, but also at times patronizing, and even a bit suffocating. More negative is the Merkelavelli description, pointing to how well, even ruthlessly, she has played the dirtier game of politics behind the scenes, outmaneuvering enemies and friends, co-opting others’ positions, and eliminating rivals. Of course, outside of Germany there is a legion of criticism, especially from the peripheral" economies that have been in a depression for years now (blamed on Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble). Images of Merkel depicted with a Hitler moustache or Nazi uniform have been rather ubiquitous in Greece, Italy, and Spain. No longer confined to extreme fringes on the left and right, even mainstream publications like the New Statesman have asserted that Merkel is the most dangerous person in Europe since Hitler with her austerity doctrines.¹⁵ The February 2014 issue of Harper’s had a cover of a Nazi uniform with the swastika replaced by a Euro symbol over the headline How Germany Reconquered Europe: The Euro and its Discontents.¹⁶ The French have long deemed her Madame Non and the British love to compare her to their divisive iron lady Margaret Thatcher—albeit without the world-changing vision.

Less explosively, others have pointed out that Merkelism is a tactic of demobilization and depoliticization—consisting of vacuous platitudes, small-step pragmatism, content-less pronouncements, and now a healthy dose of personality cult/hero worship. Some highbrows feel that she damages Germany’s public and democratic culture in such a Biedermeier or new Eisenhower era.¹⁷ There are fears that her wishy-washy slogans will prompt—or with the rise of the anti-Euro Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) have already prompted—a more extremist ideological reaction. Some criticize Merkel for having no grand vision, of being ideologically amorphous, tacking left or right, appropriating seemingly resonant policies (Energiewende) first from the SPD and then the FDP. It was rumored that despite a degree of ideological convergence, the Greens would not seriously contemplate joining a coalition as long as Merkel remains in power, precisely because they fear her opportunistic embrace would co-opt and strangulate them.

Given Merkel’s unassailable position in the pre-election polls, it almost seemed as if the other parties had given up before they even started. Indeed, their campaigns ranged from lackluster to mediocre, and even shambolic. The Greens could not really recover from a bizarre scandal about permissive attitudes towards pedophilia that some prominent party members such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Volker Beck endorsed decades ago.¹⁸ They also had environmentally friendly campaign posters that quickly disintegrated in wind and rain—interpreted as a symbol of their campaign missteps.¹⁹ More generally, despite pervasive support for an environmentalist agenda among the public, the German electorate remains uneasy about spiking energy prices and the perverse effects of subsidies for green energy.

The SPD’s campaign seemed cautious and predictable, stressing the minimum wage, lower rents, and vague calls for more social justice. Their slogans surrounding Wir, (we) Das WIR entscheidet (the we decides) were widely panned as vague and undifferentiated from the other parties.²⁰ But then, the most prominent leaders—Peer Steinbrück, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Sigmar Gabriel—had to be careful as many of them were in government during the Red-Green coalition from 1998-2005 or with Merkel from 2005-2009 and thus share some responsibility for current policies, a point Merkel gleefully hammered home during the televised debate. The party thought it could achieve a breakthrough with the choice of Steinbrück (finance minister from 2005-2009) as their chancellor candidate—considered a witty, straight-talker, but also a bit of a loose cannon. His candidacy never took off and there were some missteps—such as reports about the fees he had received for speeches, complaining about the chancellor receiving inadequate pay, or deriding cheap wine that he presumably would never touch, expressing a kind of effete elitism at odds with the traditional culture of the oldest working class party in the world, which, incidentally, celebrated its one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary in 2013. In an act of seeming desperation, he posed for a controversial magazine cover in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, smirking and giving the Stinkefinger (the middle finger) to the camera.

The FDP was almost invisible, had vacuous slogans—die Mitte entlassen (relieve the middle), damit Deutschland stark bleibt (so that Germany remains strong)—and made an amateurish, last-ditch second vote effort, which Merkel assiduously blocked. The party clearly saw the writing on the wall and barely tried to campaign. The Left Party used virtually the same slogans as they always have, recycled from the late nineteenth century—Miete und Energie: bezahlbar für alle (Rent and energy: affordable for all), 100% sozial, Teilen macht Spass: Millionärsteuer (sharing is fun: millionaire tax). The insurgent anti-Euro AfD had quite the presence—apparently benefiting from a surge of private donations. Mut zur Wahrheit: Der Euro ruiniert Europa! Auch uns! (Courage for the Truth: The Euro is ruining Europe! Us too!); Der deutsche Frühling beginnt im Herbst (the German spring begins in autumn); Griechen leiden. Deutsche zahlen. Banken kassieren, (Greeks suffer. Germans pay. Banks cash in); and Einwanderung braucht strikte Regeln (immigration requires strict rules). The right-radical NPD also caused controversy with its xenophobic posters—Maria statt scharia (Maria [depicted as a blonde woman] instead of sharia [with a woman wearing the niqab]); or Geld für die Oma statt Sinti und Roma (money for grandma, instead of Sinti and Roma).

Results and Current Trends

In contrast to the campaign, election night was rather dramatic or at least surprising. With 41.5 percent of the second votes, the 311 CDU/CSU seats came within five of an absolute majority. No one expected this decisive a victory for Merkel. The headlines the next day proclaimed—rightfully—the Merkel Republic. This was her achievement and her triumph. She is now the third-longest serving postwar chancellor and the only European leader to have been re-elected (twice) since the beginnings of the financial and Euro crises in 2008. Amidst the jubilation at the Konrad-Adenauer-Haus in the Tiergarten on election night, Merkel was typically humble, although visibly happy, thanking her team and already looking forward to the task of forming a new governing coalition.

The FDP had an apocalyptic evening. The party and its leaders proved hapless in government, seemingly unable to come through on any of their 2009 campaign promises. The leaders’ missteps plagued the Liberals, especially Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and party leader Philipp Rösler, whom Merkel also constantly outmaneuvered. In the end, only she could claim credit for and benefit from the economy’s strong performance after 2010. On election night, the FDP garnered only 4.8 percent of the vote, almost 10 percent less than in 2009, coming in below the all-important 5 percent threshold for being eligible for seats. Thus, for the first time since the Federal Republic was formed, the FDP lacks representation in the eighteenth Bundestag and its market liberal profile will not be heard. The atmosphere at their campaign night event was funereal and the purge of top leaders (Rösler, Rainer Brüderle) started the next morning. The party now places all of its hopes on thirty-six-year-old Christian Lindner from North Rhine Westphalia who became the new party chairman in December 2013. The Union parties gained 2 million second votes from the FDP—other supporters stayed at home or defected to the insurgent AfD. Interestingly, all pollsters had the Liberals over the 5 percent threshold in the weeks before the election—and they were rather defensive after the fact about their erroneous predictions, noting that the actual result was within the margin of error.

Table I.2. Bundestag Election Results, 2013 and 2009

By early 2015, there were few signs of recovery, with the party hovering between 3 and 4 percent in polls. It garnered only 3.4 percent in the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament,²¹ and in the fall 2014 Land elections, did not surmount the 5 percent threshold (2.5 percent in Thuringia, 1.5 percent in Brandenburg, and 3.8 percent in Saxony). Many pundits believe that the party is finished, although it did well in Hamburg in February 2015, actually increasing its vote to 7.4 percent and greatly boosting Lindner’s position.²²

Assessments of the SPD’s performance depended on the eye of the beholder. Some journalists spoke of the second worst electoral result in the party’s history,²³ with 2009 being the nadir. Others saw improvement. The party did marginally better than 2009—increasing its share of second votes by 2.7 percent to 25.7 percent. Yet even the party faithful saw this as a lackluster result. The heartiest cheering at the SPD election night party in Kreuzberg’s Willy-Brandt-Haus occurred when the prognosis came in that the FDP would not surpass the 5 percent threshold—Germans did coin the word schadenfreude after all. Of course, the party’s structural predicament with an exposed left flank from both the old-old leftist Linke and the new-left Greens has not improved. There is increased talk about the two epochal mistakes of the Social Democrats failing to integrate the Greens in the 1980s and the PDS/Left in the 1990s and 2000s. Even further, the discourse about whether the SPD can even (or should) still be considered a catch-all, people’s party (Volkspartei) with only about a quarter of the electorate and their old bastions, the unions, seemingly in terminal decline, will certainly continue.²⁴

Indeed, the party leadership is in a bind—they have to move to the center to govern with Merkel, but cannot afford to alienate their ideological left, with other parties waiting to pounce on the disaffected. Gabriel even felt compelled to put the coalition agreement to a vote of the party’s membership and there was substantial worry that the laboriously negotiated document would not be endorsed. In the end, 75 percent did vote for the agreement and it should be noted that Gabriel was quite astute in using this tactic to his party’s benefit. He got much more from Merkel—control of six out of sixteen ministries, including powerful portfolios such as foreign affairs, economics, and energy, justice, and social affairs, as well as policy concessions like a minimum wage and a lowering of the retirement age—than was expected, given that Merkel needed only five seats to gain a majority and that the SPD leadership at least was seemingly desperate to regain power. As former party heavyweight Franz Müntefering once memorably put the pragmatic case for governing: Opposition ist Mist (opposition is dung).²⁵

In any case, about eighteen months after the election, the party had not really gained nor lost support, hovering between 22 and 26 percent according to surveys.²⁶ It scored well in the European Parliament elections at 27.3 percent, a 6.5 percent increase from its 2009 result. Its performance in the September 2014 Thuringian election, however, was abysmal, losing 6 percent compared to 2009 and amassing only 12.4 percent of the votes. Much controversy surrounded coalition negotiations in late 2014 as a Red-Red-Green government was formed under Left Party leadership (Bodo Ramelow)—the first time the Left Party has led a Land government.²⁷ Many predict that this augers closer collaboration among the leftist parties at the national level—until now the Left has not been considered an acceptable governing partner (koalitionsfähig). Although this might allow the SPD to regain national power in the medium term, it is a fraught strategy that could backfire and accelerate the Social Democrats’ vote loss.

The Greens lost 2.3 percent, winning 8.4 percent of the second votes. Although a decline of 2 percent of the national vote does not appear excessive, this represents a 21.5 percent decrease from their 2009 level of support. Moreover, the outcome seemed much worse because the Greens had been riding very high in the polls in the years before the election. In mid-2011, for example, they were polling over 20 percent, so that their actual 2013 result was 60 percent less than their peak. At one point, they were even more popular than the SPD, prompting much speculation that they were fast becoming the new center-left Volkspartei (people’s party). They also experienced a string of major victories at the state level—results often interpreted as harbingers of national trends. Most notably, in March 2011 they scored a plurality victory of 24 percent in Baden-Württemberg and now lead that government in conjunction with the SPD—the first time that the Greens have ever been the senior coalition partner at the Land level. Thus, the 2013 national outcome was perceived as an utter failure. There was a major leadership shake-up in the days following the election with the experienced Jürgen Trittin and Claudia Roth both stepping down, eventually replaced by Simone Peter and Cem Özdemir. Since the election, the Greens have recovered slightly, averaging 9 to 11 percent in polls.

The Left lost 3.3 percent compared to the last election and came in at 8.6 percent, an almost 30 percent decline from their 2009 totals. Despite its losses and the almost constant prognostications of the party’s terminal decline with an aging eastern electorate and the retirement, death, or decline of charismatic founding leaders like Oskar Lafontaine, Lothar Bisky, and even Gregor Gysi, the Left, always propagandizing, spun their result. They celebrated becoming the third largest fraction in the new parliament and the largest opposition party, as well as rather cockily expressing their desire for a red-red-green coalition, pointing out that the three leftist parties together had a majority. The Left has held up well in surveys—by early 2015 averaging 8 to 10 percent. In the 2014 European Parliament elections, they scored 7.4 percent of the vote, and they continue to prosper in eastern Germany, now leading the governing coalition in Thuringia after receiving 28 percent of the vote.

The Greens and Left are the only two opposition parties in the new Bundestag. The governing parties have rarely dominated to this degree with 80 percent of the seats, compared to 73 percent for the 2005-2009 electoral period and 90 percent from 1966-1969—conferring a visibility and responsibility from which both leftist groupings potentially could benefit, especially if the Social Democrats take a hit due to the inevitable compromises involved with assuming a share of governing responsibility. In light of the small opposition and declining interest in parliamentary debates among the general public, reforms are now envisioned to spice things up.²⁸

Finally, the AfD, which disgruntled intellectuals formed only in February 2013, almost made it into the Bundestag with 4.7 percent of the vote. Although focused largely on the problems of the Euro and advocating for Germany’s withdrawal (or at least reconfiguration of the currency restricted to a hard core of northern and central European countries), the nascent party has also embraced other right-populist themes such as greater restrictions on immigration and less generous welfare benefits. Despite this profile, pollsters noted that this is really a protest movement, gaining many votes not only from easterners who previously had voted for the Left Party, but also from a more educated clientele of disgruntled western FDP and CDU/CSU supporters. The success of this party shows that even Germany is not immune to some destabilization resulting from the festering Eurozone crisis.

For the center-right, the rise of the AfD is structurally similar to the challenge that the Left Party presents to the SPD—creating a constraint that inhibits a policy move to the center. Merkel cannot risk more right-wing voters defecting to this alternative on her right flank, nor could the Union expect the same kind of electoral success that it has recently experienced, if this party were to institutionalize itself at the federal, state, or even European level. Recently, the classic statement of postwar Bavarian leader Franz-Josef Strauß—that there should be no democratic party right of the Union—has been frequently cited implicitly criticizing Merkel’s failure to stem the rise of this party.

It is still too early to tell if the AfD will strengthen and root itself in the party system, or—like the Pirates and many others—quickly fade away. Over 2014, the party continued to make impressive gains, scoring 7.1 percent in the May European Parliament elections; 9.7 percent in Saxony, 10.6 percent in Thuringia (siphoning enough votes to thwart a continued black-red coalition), and 12.2 percent in Brandenburg. Nevertheless, in January 2015 it was polling 6 to 7 percent nationally and received 6.1 percent in the February 2015 Hamburg election. By July 2015, it was down to about 4 percent, having taken a hit from its earlier flirtation with the

Hai raggiunto la fine di questa anteprima. Registrati per continuare a leggere!
Pagina 1 di 1

Recensioni

Cosa pensano gli utenti di The Merkel Republic

0
0 valutazioni / 0 Recensioni
Cosa ne pensi?
Valutazione: 0 su 5 stelle

Recensioni dei lettori